Spotllight on Strategies

Document Analysis - Dueling Documents


Having students analyze documents from various sources or competing points of view improves literacy skills, gives students a more real and personal connection to the issue, and increases critical thinking and reading comprehension. (Donald, 2012).

Document analysis/comparison is especially useful in the social sciences, however, it is broad enough that it might be adapted for other subject areas as well.

This strategy is effective in helping students understand how complex social/political/legal issues can be seen from very diverse perspectives, and that as many perspectives as possible must be considered when examining/judging said issue.

There is ample, easily located researched-based supports for teaching with primary source documents, however, a twist on the primary source document activities is that of 'dueling documents' for the purpose of teaching social justice. "To teach for social justice involves shifting out of neutral, both in terms of a teacher's orientation to social inequalities and of pedagogy. Our preferred teacher role involves spotlighting the perspectives of all groups and providing the opportunity for students to develop their deliberative capacities and to learn to act on their reasoned convictions." (Brandus & Kelly, 2001).

Example - Dueling Documents - Law 30

Labour Standards Laws - Sweatshops

  1. Have half of the students read the article, Labour Standards Clash with Global Reality (Document A) Have each student write a dollar statement (one sentence summary) for the article.
  2. Have the other half of the students read the article Two Cheers for Sweatshops (Document B) and write a dollar statement (one sentence summary) for the article.
  3. Students will submit their summaries via Twitter using #sweatshopwars.
  4. Have students who analyzed Document A pair off with students who analyzed Document B. Ask each student in the paired group to describe the conclusions they drew from their documents. As a pair they must come to a conclusion about which document they "support" most.
  5. With a partner, students must choose a country where US/Canadian based companies have their clothing manufactured. Students will use VoiceThread to indicate which document 'wins' the duel. It must include the following information:

* Existing sweatshops (types of clothing/brands made there).

* Conditions of sweatshops

* Political/Economic drivers behind existence of sweatshops in that country.

* Existence of labour standards laws.

* Persuasive opinion as to whether or not the sweatshops should remain there.

* Comment as to what we might do in Canada to improve upon conditions in sweatshops in other countries.


Document analysis is traditionally used with primary historical sources in history classes. The concept of dueling documents provides a twist on this strategy by applying many of the same principles to persuasive documents regarding a social justice issue. The challenge posed is for educators to not only make use of this strategy in their history or social studies courses, but to find other 'twists' on document analysis in these subject areas or others. Anytime we can provide students with multiple sources on the same issue/concept, we are allowing them to engage in analytic thinking as well as drawing their own informed conclusions.


Brandus, G. & Kelly, D. (2001). Shifting out of "neutral": Beginning teachers' struggles with teaching for social justice. Canadian Journal of Education, 26(4). Retrieved from

Donald, B. (2012, March 5). Stanford researchers bring life to high school history classes with a curriculum built around historical documents. In Stanford News. Retrieved from

National Archives. (n.d.) Written document analysis worksheet. Retrieved from

Image Credits

Dreamstime photo stock. (n.d.) Retrieved from:

Fotosearch. (n.d.) Retrieved from